Monday, May 02, 2022


A few days ago, Greg Sargent of The Washington Post considered the question of what might happen if Elon Musk turns Twitter into the "free speech" paradise of Republicans' dreams. One of Sargent's interviewees raised an alarming possibility:
Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who studies online harassment, suggests a worst-case scenario: A less-moderated Twitter might be weaponized in online harassment campaigns to paint Democratic officials — especially ones who attack GOP bills on sex and gender identity — as groomers and pedophiles.

“If Democratic politicians are accused of being pedophiles,” Citron tells me, you can imagine “deep fake sex videos” that employ depictions of child porn with the “politician swapped in.”
This could happen -- although when manipulated videos that made Nancy Pelosi appear to be drunk surfaced in 2019 and 2020, they were widely debunked as phony. Vladimir Putin fan Tara Reade's credulity-straining and changeable claims of sexual assault by Joe Biden also suggest that Democratic politicians could be targeted this way in the future, though perhaps not successfully if the evidence doesn't hold up.

But does the right think it needs evidence of Democratic pedophilia, real or manufactured?

The spread of the "all Democrats are pedophiles" message by QAnon didn't bother with evidence, apart from the occasional photo of Bill Clinton or Bill Gates with Jeffrey Epstein (and the downplaying of similar photos of Epstein with Donald Trump). Now the right-wing buzzword is "groomer" -- but it doesn't mean what it used to mean. "Groomer" has been one of the trending topics on Twitter this morning. Here are a couple of the top tweets:

Neither of these is about adults sexually assaulting children. They're both about giving support to young people who are trans or are experiencing gender dysphoria.

The right understands that the word "groomer" has a terrible meaning in most people's brains: A groomer is a person who manipulates a child in order to make it easier to force sex on that child. The right applies the word "groomer" to people who aren't doing that so you'll see encouragement of gender-nonconforming kids and think child rape. They want the awful meaning of "groomer" to be attached to behavior that's not grooming leading up to sexual assault. They're manipulating the way words acquire meaning in the brain to attach a bad meaning to an unrelated activity.

They are, in the words of Christopher Rufo, decodifying and recodifying the word "groomer," as they decodied and recodified another term:

The purpose here is slightly different: to take behavior Americans don't necessarily object to (being emotionally supportive to young people struggling with identity) and "recodify" that support as the worst thing in the world. If you can do that, you don't need actual pedophilia to accuse Democrats of being pedophiles. See, e.g., Donald Trump Jr., on the campaign trail for J.D. Vance:
“The other side has literally taken the stance that it’s OK to be a groomer,” he charges, promoting the MAGAworld calumny that Democrats are pro-pedophile. Even on this dark topic he draws laughs by marveling that, in his younger days, “being antipedophile was something that we could all agree on!”
If your base already sees advocacy for LGBT youth and thinks "child rape," then why bother with deepfake videos?

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